It’s a defense that’s been utterly dominant in 2015.
The Notre Dame had allowed just 49 points through 13 weeks — 14 of those coming after Week 3. Pios coach Lewis Cook said the starting unit had given up just five touchdowns all season going.
The Pios allowed only one touchdown in the playoffs, against two-time defending state champion Calvary Baptist in the quarterfinals.
But Cook said he didn’t imagine the Pios defense would keep Riverside Academy out of the end zone in Friday’s Division III select final, but that’s exactly what they did in Notre Dame’s 13-3 win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It’s something that we build our team around,” Cook said. “We know that we have to play defense for us to have a chance to win. Our kids have always been mentally tough and physically tough, and it gives us a chance to win.”
Riverside coach Bill Stubbs said the Rebels had chances to get going offensively, but those chances were closed quickly. The Rebels finished with just 135 yards of total offense.
“There were windows, but they were tight windows,” Stubbs said. “We were able to get in there and make some cuts, but the back door wasn’t open. I think they wanted to make us one-dimensional, and I think they did that. That front four is good.”
Knowing that most state finals end with an offensive player being named most outstanding player, Cook said he was pleased when linebacker Shea Zaunbrecher’s name was announced.
“When they announced it, in my mind I was hoping it was a defensive guy,” Cook said. “How do you not give it to a defensive player? They’re all special, but Shea made the big plays. He had the interception and a couple of sacks, and I am really happy for him.”
Zaunbrecher’s journey to lead the Pios defense began on offense as a fullback. He said he remembers Cook and defensive coordinator James McCleary calling him in and saying they would prefer him at linebacker.
“I was like, ‘All right. Whatever you need,’ ” Zaunbrecher recalled. “I ended up getting moved to outside linebacker and our coaches do a great job of developing players and getting us to understand the schemes. It’s not about one player; it’s just about your assignment and responsibility within the scheme and making things happen.”
Cook credited McCleary for being the key component to making the Notre Dame defense so successful.
“Our whole group is led by him,” Cook said. “Our offense puts in a lot of time, but coach Mac goes above and beyond with the defense to do what it takes to get us in this position. His defense was as remarkable as I’ve seen, and what they’ve been able to accomplish is a testament to coach Mac.”
Zaunbrecher said it was great to be named most outstanding player, but the feeling didn’t compare to ending the season with the ultimate goal in hand.
“When I was younger, I played a lot of defense,” Zaunbrecher said. “I was more of a defensive player than offense. This was a dream come true for me. It was awesome to be named most outstanding, but more so to hold up that state title with my brothers. That was the more accomplished feeling.”